Iron certainly needs no introduction! It is a metal that we deal with every day and, on top of that, it’s one of the most common elements of the universe.
Its strong symbolic value derives from the fact that, in the most remote ages of civilization, Iron was not extracted from the bowels of the earth, but it was collected on its surface: it was a gift from the sky which, according to the archaic mythology, came from the stars that fell from celestial vault.
I believe it is precisely this nature that generated the Greek word sideros (Iron). Many mistakenly associate it to the Latin word sidus (star); as a matter of fact, these two words are not directly associated, but they have a common Indo-European root in the word sid, the meaning of which is:
bind [si] to the light/knowledge [d]
Perhaps is this very ancient word that establishes the link that the ancients believed existed between Iron and sky.
In Ayurveda, Iron unites earth and sky; subtle and earthly elements.
In addition to this, if we consider that metals are fundamental for the construction of tools and weapons, it is logical that the blacksmith’s craft, which represents the art of creating with metal, has often got important religious and supernatural connotations, from the dawn of civilization up to the most recent Alchemy. Even today we recognize that metallurgy was a very important discovery for the progress of civilization, so much so that entire Ages are classified according to the discovery and use of metals (Copper Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age). Therefore, it is not surprising that, over the millennia, Iron has got very strong symbolic meanings.
The most famous blacksmith in Classical Mythology is undoubtedly Hephaestus, or Vulcan for the ancient Romans, who manufactured his works in the forge in the heart of Etna.
Even the Old Testament speaks about metallurgy and, after considering the characteristics of each metal, a meaning is associated with them: for the Jewish people, Iron represents strength, but also violence and slavery.
Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom as strong as iron; for iron shatters and crushes all things and like iron that crushes all things, it will shatter and crush all the others.Daniel 2, 40
In this passage, Daniel refers to the Four Ages of humanity, where the Iron Age is considered the age of violence, corruption, brutality and barbarism. Iron, as a resistant and strong material, marks a new step forward towards the human mastery over the natural order. Iron is the technological progress, the “profane” evolution which determines the alienation from sacred values.
So, the step is very short from life force to destructive violence.
Iron has always been associated with vitality and, in particular, with physical strength. In fact, it is the element of the gods of war: from Ares, or Mars, to Thor, who wore the magic gloves Járngreipr made of Iron to wield the hammer Mjöllnir. But there is more, since the most ancestral times the divinities of war enjoyed of the blood of the enemies reaped on the battlefield as their vital element: because of this, a close connection was created between blood – force – weapon. And this led to an even closer connection between Iron and military/political power.
In fact, one of the most important relics associated to the power is the Iron Crown of Charlemagne, which surrounded the head of the Holy Roman Empire and also that of Napoleon Bonaparte. The inner lamina was believed to have been forged from a nail of the Cross of Jesus. Some legends claimed that in 300 AD the nail was found by Elena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, while other sources indicate that the crown was made by order of the Lombard Queen Theodolinda in 600 AD with a nail given to her by Pope Gregory I in homage to her devotion.
God gave it to me and woe to those who takes it away from me.Napoleon Bonaparte
Although it has recently been determined that the crown doesn’t contain any Iron elements, it is still named Iron Crown because of its strong symbolic value.
The symbolism of Iron is ambivalent: its positive and negative value has always put it in a “mundane” dimension compared to the other noble metals, such as gold, silver and bronze. Considering this aspect, Iron can be both repulsive and attractive for evil spirits.
According to the beliefs of Mediterranean magical-religious thought, Iron is used to ward off demons and evil spirits. Modeled in the form of nails, horseshoes and amulets, the spell is believed to be more effective if the Iron is rusty: in this way, the demons have to pace the fragility of their very essence. The Celts believed that Iron could cancel spells cast by witches, elves and fairies.
SIDEROMANCY: is the auspicious use of Iron. Some twigs are tied to a red-hot Iron and the reading is made on the basis of the rattle and the sparks generated by the combustion.
The Iron connected to a magnet also becomes the symbol of the cosmic attractive forces.
ALCHEMICAL SYMBOLISM OF IRON
In Alchemy, each element is associated with the metaphysical order; therefore, a metal is much more than a simple metal. Numerous meanings can be attributed to an element, but we can trace back to a nucleus of stable qualities through an interpretative way.
From the planetary point of view, Iron is governed by Mars. In Alchemy it symbolizes male energy, power, aggression, growth, dependence, protection. Iron is linked to lust, trust, courage, strength, endurance, resilience. It is considered the most “mundane” metal and, for this reason, it is disliked by spirits and ethereal entities. Philosophically, it symbolizes the need to keep primordial instincts under control, pushing the individual to embrace the internal fire, the more instinctual and less rational one.
SPAGIRYA: ANEMIA AND PSYCHOSOMATIC MEANING
According to Spagirya (the Alchemy that pursue the healing with herbal medicine and natural elements), Iron is connected to the archetype of Mars: the warrior, the strength.
Iron represents the ability to transform one’s ideas into concrete actions.
In sideropenic anemia, hemoglobin (male principle connected to Iron) is disadvantaged compared to the liquid part of the serum (female principle) and this led to a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream.
According to this line of though, the blood of the anemic has little strength, favoring attitudes and behaviors that have a tendency to escape and passivity.
I suffer from anemia and, personally, I’m quite skeptical about this interpretation… anyway, I find it fascinating as a passionate about culture and history of human thought.
That’s all for now, see you at the next post!
by Alice Colombo
Images from web